A KATE Forbes victory would have been a car crash for the SNP. Humza Yousaf’s is more of a slow puncture.

Had the finance secretary triumphed over the continuity candidate, it would have been a shock to the party hierarchy from Nicola Sturgeon down.

Ms Forbes’s socially conservative views on same sex marriage and abortion were anathema to a modern progressive Scotland, they shuddered. 

The Scottish Greens also warned they would bail on the joint government agreement.

The SNP’s deputy leader at Westminster, Mhairi Black, even though the party could split. 

The meltdown scenario has been avoided, but Mr Yousaf faces no shortage of challenges.

READ MORE: Humza Yousaf to be new First Minister

His party is manifestly divided.

He failed to win on the first round of voting, and only crossed the finishing line thanks to second preferences from those who backed outsider Ash Regan.

Even then, he mustered just 52 per cent of the final tally on a turnout of 70%.

He was the first choice of barely a third of the SNP’s 72,169 members. 

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A great swathe of the grassroots doubted his competence and did not want his brand of continuity, preferring Ms Forbes’s demands for a dramatic change of tack.

Those members weren’t deterred by her Christian views on gay marriage, abortion and gender reform, or her emphasis on the economy and reaching out to No voters, or her willingness to end the Bute House deal with the Greens and govern as a minority again.

So one of Mr Yousaf’s top priorities has to be party unity. 

He should find it fairly simple to begin with - Ms Forbes’s supporters are not as voluble as his, the Greens are staying put, the party will not split -  but there is a long-term problem for him nevertheless: a big chunk of his own members simply don’t think he’s up to the job.

The opposition parties will never tire of punching that bruise. He will be dogged by questions of competence every day he is in Bute House.

Ms Forbes has said that, as a democrat, she respects the result and fully supports him in whatever he does. 

To return the favour, Mr Yousaf now has to find her a suitable role in the party. 

The obvious option - giving her health when he leaves it - would put her next to ethically divisive issues such as assisted dying, conversion therapy and abortion clinic buffer zones.

That could alienate the Greens as well as many of Mr Yousaf’s other colleagues. 

If he cannot find an elegant solution, his claim to be a unifier will rapidly look overblown.

Then there is SNP HQ to consider. It has become a byword for arrogance, mismanagement and inertia in recent years.

There has been a police probe into its finances for the last 18 months over the possible misuse of £600,000 raised specifically for Indyref2.

Mr Yousaf needs to clean the Augean stable as quickly as he can, before it taints him too.

The SNP, as we also now know, has lost around a third of its 103,000 members since the end of 2021, but doesn’t appear to know why. Mr Yousaf needs to find out and act.

However, that could mean confronting his continuity backers who don’t want a fuss.

Mr Yousaf also faces tensions over the Greens.

READ MORE: How Humza Yousaf secured victory in the SNP leadership contest

Throughout his campaign he stressed the necessity of maintaining the Bute House deal, painting himself as the candidate best placed to protect a pro-independence alliance at Holyrood and beyond.

But some fear he made the pact so important he gave the Greens increased leverage over the administration.

That he has made the tail even more powerful by saying the dog can’t do without it.

If he starts to blink on a legal challenge to Westminster’s gender reform veto, or tries to overhaul the deposit return scheme Lorna Slater insists is tickety boo, the Greens can start muttering darkly about the fall of the Bute House agreement.

“He said we can’t do anything without the Greens,” lamented one MSP. “But your average SNP member isn’t all that impressed with the Greens. Humza is also going to have to go into the general election defending Green policies. Can you imagine that?”

Which brings us to the electoral challenges facing Mr Yousaf. In her last days as FM, Ms Sturgeon fell back on the comforting mantra that she had won eight elections in eight years. It’s true of course, but the SNP has always been flattered by the weakness of its opponents. 

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The SNP has never faced an electable Labour party since it came to office in 2007.  

No more. Labour are on the front foot, and they’re looking to reclaim a lot of the votes that the SNP plundered from them on its way to power in Scotland.

The flipside of Ms Sturgeon’s success is the SNP have very high numbers to defend, starting in next year's general election. The party gained 13 MPs in the 2019 election to win 48, its second ever highest tally.

It is very hard to see how it can keep them all in a polarised Labour-v-Tory fight, especially as 30 of the 48 seats have majorities of less than 10 per cent.

Mr Yousaf’s first encounter with the electorate as SNP leader is therefore likely to be an unhappy one, resurrecting questions about his competence.

READ MORE: Scottish Greens react as Humza Yousaf is elected SNP leader

The Holyrood election of 2026 also sees the SNP defending its second highest number of MSPs.

Ms Sturgeon won 64 in 2021, one short of an overall majority. Again, it is difficult to see Mr Yousaf clinching a majority where Ms Sturgeon failed.

Advancing is nigh impossible.

If Mr Yousaf survives that election, there are the local elections in 2027, when the SNP will be defending a record number of seats, having won 453 out of 1,227 last year.

Three election reversals ended Swinney’s leadership of the SNP in 2004.

Then there is the big one - independence. Ms Sturgeon couldn't deliver a referendum or find a way around Westminster’s refusal to play nice. 

Mr Yousaf will remind Rishi Sunak of the Scottish Government’s long-standing demand for a transfer of referendum powers to Holyrood when they first talk, but he knows it won’t happen.

It was notable that in his acceptance speech, Mr Yousaf said he would kickstart a campaign for independence, but avoided putting a timeframe on a Yes vote.

Instead, he twice said his would be “the generation” that delivered independence, a very elastic term.

While the team he said would deliver it would be the SNP’s MSPs, MPs, councillors and activists, exactly the same crew at Ms Sturgeon’s disposal. There was little new.

A divided party, worries over competence, looming election losses and more muddling through on independence.

Mr Yousaf’s premiership isn’t locked into a downward trajectory. But he will find it extremely hard to avoid.